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THE DEVIL’S ROOMING HOUSE By: M. William Phelps September 19, 2010

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.
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     This nonfiction selection tells the story which was the inspiration for ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. Sister Amy Archer was called such because she was a sweet woman who walked through Hartford, Connecticut with a Bible tucked in the crook of her arm. She ran one of the first nursing homes, taking people into a comfortable home and providing care and meals so they could live out their days worry free. You could contract to give her $1000 for life-long care or pay $7 per week. What she liked to do was get people to give her the $1000 and then poison them and rerent their room. In all, she  managed to kill both of her husbands and sixty-six patients.
    The book begins in the summer of 1911, a summer whose two-week heat wave took over 2,000 lives. On July 5th of that year, hundreds of thousands flocked to Coney Island to try to get some relief from the heat and people were assigned numbers and let in and out of the water in shifts. There was no air conditioning back then, and ice, when available, was purchased. Clothing was heavy and covered people from head to toe. Today, we can’t even begin to imagine what  summer heat would feel like with absolutely no escape from it. During this summer, people literally went crazy from the heat, and there were as many suicides as heat stroke deaths.  And then the book goes on to study Amy.

     While fascinating, this book, out of necessity, is cluttered with characters, so is not a quick read.  Amy poisoned patients as fast as they came in, so the narration introduces patients and their friends and families, the doctor who signed the death certificates, and those who got involved to figure out why there were so many deaths in this one home. They all must be included. The author, M. William Phelps has been called the nation’s leading authority on the mind of the female murderer, and has written a small library of nonfiction books. He also consulted on Showtime’s DEXTER.  If his credentials, alone, are not enough to get you to pick up this book, then perhaps the section of well-chosen photographs in the middle of the book will be. The Lycan Librarian, as always, will not reveal what happened, so there you have yet another incentive.

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